Before the clock stuck 12 and 2017 was put to rest, Mass Movement’s roving reporter Ginge Knievil put his carrier pigeon to good use and managed to catch-up with Kjetil – principal songwriter and guitarist extraordinaire with Norwegian rockers Razorbats. In a brutally honesty and frank interview with no bullshit rock ‘n’ roll bravado, here’s what Kjetil had to say. Enjoy!
Interview by Ginge Knievil
MM: Hey, Kjetil. If I may go back in time; Camp Rock from 2015 was one hell of an album and received many plaudits from those in the know. Did that take you by surprise or was it all part of the master plan? [laughs]
Kjetil: Thank you very much! We were a bit overwhelmed by the response and especially that it got coverage all over Europe, in the US, Australia and even South America without a big label behind it or any money to promote it. I’m not really sure why people took to it, but I did see that a lot of journalists compared it to old heroes from the 70s and 80s instead of more current bands, so maybe we got a bit of extra attention for doing something a little bit different. There were many comparisons to Cheap Trick, Hanoi Rocks, Kix, early Def Leppard and stuff like that, and I don’t think I had read a review in about 20 years comparing a new release to any of them [laughs]. Was that the masterplan? Not at all! We just wanted to make an album that we thought sounded cool and that we ourselves wanted to hear. We always talk things through and make plans for what we want to do, but we don’t think too much about how it will be received. It just too difficult to predict, so it’s more or less a waste of time.
MM: 2017 saw a line-up reshuffle in the band, where Even Berg left the Razorbats’ fold. How difficult was it to find a new frontman? Were there any “fuck this, let’s quit” moments?
Kjetil : Replacing singers is the hardest thing to do, so it was a bit daunting. Even is really one of a kind and has a very signature voice, so we knew we couldn’t just replace him and expect the band to sound the same. I can’t remember us talking seriously about quitting, but the bass player left shortly after Even and there was a period of 4-5 weeks where Razorbats was just Knut (drummer) and I. It did feel a bit like we had failed, but we had a good talk and decided that we wanted to move on and see if we could pull it off. By that time we had already spent 3 years finding our way as a band and we felt we were on to something really cool, so we didn’t want to just give up that easily.
The songs we were writing for the new album had less of punk-edge to them and more of a melodic and classic rock vibe, so it was more important to find the right guy for that direction when we were searching for a new singer, than to find someone who could copy what Even had done on Camp Rock. The new album was actually more or less finished when Even left, so we had a pretty good idea of what we were looking for in a new singer. It was also a great way to audition new guys by having them sing on the tracks from the new album. At the same time really strange to hear a different voice singing the songs Even had recorded just a few weeks earlier, but when we heard Paulie sing a new track called Bad Teacher we knew he was the right guy and the future voice of Razorbats. I was a fan of his old band Hollywood Vampires (not the one with Johnny Depp), so I knew he was fantastic on stage and cool guy. He just seemed perfect.
MM: Without causing any disrespect to Even, the reception to the arrival of Paul Eric Vercouteren at the mic seems to have been positive. Did you think fans of the band would react this way?
Kjetil : The reception has been even better than we had hoped for! We have done a few shows with him in the band and the response from fans who have seen us before has been amazing. He’s great on stage, looks cool and the old songs also work really well. Those who have written about our new single say that it still sounds like Razorbats and that Paulie does a great job. I tend to agree with them! [laughs]
MM: You dropped the Social Rejects single in late 2017. Is the track a first person reflection on how you see yourselves or does it speak for a lot of people in your native Norway?
Kjetil : That song is all me at age 16. When I was in high school I could pretty much fit in everywhere. I could hang with the cool kids, the stoners, the nerds and so on, but I never really felt I belonged anywhere. I got bullied a bit when I was even younger, so I guess that gave me some insecurities. When you have been told enough times that you don’t belong, then you start to not want to belong and instead try to find other people who also feel like they don’t belong. I was a bit shy back then, so it was a bit difficult to talk to girls, but I remember fantasizing about falling in love with the perfect girl and that we would run away together; start over just the two of us and live happily ever after! All that mushy stuff [laughs]. I don’t think that song has anything specifically to do with being Norwegian. It’s just about being 16, an outsider and in love.
MM: New album Razorbats II is scheduled to be released in February 2018. On hearing teaser snippets on YouTube, it sounds like there’ll be more big power pop choruses galore. Where did you record it and how do you find the whole studio experience in general?
Kjetil :Oh yeah! There will definitely be some huge singalong choruses and catchy guitar riffs, because that’s sort of what we do! There will also be a couple of up-tempo, “in your face” rockers and one slow, melancholic ballad to finish the album. Just like Camp Rock we recorded the album at Calmeyer Studios in Oslo with Kai Christoffersen producing. The biggest difference this time was of course that we lost half the band recording this one. We wrote the songs and recorded them with one line-up and finished it with a different one. All the drums, the bass, most of the guitars and all the lead vocals were done when Even left. We had to do the vocals again with Paulie and started building the songs again around his voice. We added some more guitars, percussion, re-recorded the bass and all the new guys did background vocals. It was important that the new guys contributed to the new album to make them feel like it was their album as well, and they all added something great to the songs.
The album took 13 months to record and cost us a lot of money and we lost half the band in the process, so to be honest I was more relieved than proud when we finished it. I didn’t listen to it for a month or so after it was all done, but when I did I realised that it was really, really good. The sound is bigger and a bit more polished compared to Camp Rock and Paulie has a different approach to the songs, so for me it was almost like hearing the songs for the first time. His singing style is a bit less aggressive and more melodic compared to Even, and I think that suited the songs very well. We also tried to do something a bit different when it comes to guitar sound, to make it even more “classic” sounding. We used a lot less gain in the amps and mainly guitars with single coil pickups. That gives it a somewhat cleaner and cooler sound that we loved. That part of the recording was a lot fun!
MM: Previously, you worked with Self Destructo Records for Camp Rock. Rob Mules Records are on board for the new album. How did that partnership come about?
Kjetil : Self Destructo Records is an American label and want to concentrate on American bands from now on, so there was no drama or anything with us leaving. We wanted to try being on a Norwegian label and contacted a couple of them. There are very few labels who release rock music, so there were no obvious choices. There are some mainstream labels that occasionally work with rock bands and then there are the metal labels. We knew the mainstream labels like Warner and Universal wouldn’t be interested, but one of the metal labels loved the album and wanted it. I guess most of the people who work with metal music grew up on Kiss, AC/DC, Guns N’ Roses and stuff like that, so they can relate and maybe hearing us brought back some good memories. Rob Mules Records is a new label, but the guys who work there have a lot of experience and are great people. We get along well and they have done a great job so far. It’s a lot of fun working with a label that gets involved a bit more, makes plans and give us a good kick in the ass every now and then!
MM: The band graced these UK shores in 2016. From experience, I know how difficult it is set-up these tours from a grassroots level. How did you find the experience and if there’s any promoters listening, is it something you’d like to do again?
Kjetil : We sure did and it was a lot of fun! We’re gonna tour Norway in the spring and do some festivals in the summer, but we talk about doing something around Europe and UK in the fall. Nothing concrete yet, but we would prefer finding a cool band we can support in the UK. It was great playing a headline show in London last time, but it would probably be smarter to support a well-known band. There are also talks of playing Italy and Germany, but we’ll have to see what offers we can get. It’s quite expensive to travel abroad and you don’t exactly get rich playing rock ‘n’ roll these days, but visiting the UK is definitely part of the plan for supporting the new album. I have toured a lot in the UK with previous bands and it’s always a lot of filthy fun!
MM: How difficult do you find writing lyrics in English? For this Welshman I always find a certain charm when Scandinavian bands do so. Do you get any hang-ups or concerns?
Kjetil : It’s both easier and more difficult than writing in Norwegian. Easier because it just sounds right and more difficult because it’s not my first language. I try not to overindulge in metaphors or try to be too “clever” because it usually doesn’t work that well. Me, being Norwegian and not a poet and all that, I try to keep it simple. There has always been a lot of talk about Norwegian bands singing in English back home, and especially since some of the lyrics tend to sound a bit naff; we misunderstand some sayings, pronunciation isn’t always great and stuff like that. But the music we make has the potential to reach far beyond Norwegian borders, so we never considered singing in Norwegian. Scandinavian bands might sound a bit strange for people in the UK and US, but at the same time we have received the best album reviews from English speaking countries, so I don’t feel it’s a huge obstacle for us. And does it matter to someone in Mexico, Germany or Russia? I know it’s not perfect, but at least we’re better than the Scorpions and they became one of the biggest bands in the world [laughs]. The trick is to not compare yourself to Bob Dylan or John Lennon, but the likes of Rudolf Schenker and Klaus Meine [laughs].
MM: Here in the UK, when someone mentions Norway we may instantly think of Turbonegro, Gluecifer, et al. What’s the current scene like in Oslo and are there any bands we should be looking out for?
Kjetil : There are not that many fantastic new bands, but some of the old ones are still pretty good. Gluecifer are making a comeback and Turbonegro are trying something new with more keyboards and stuff. I like a newer band called Death By Unga Bunga. They are more of a garage rock meets indie pop band, but really good! They tour a lot in the US, but are not that well known back home. Brut Boogaloo just released a very cool record and our friends in the Suicide Bombers are great if you like sleaze rock. Norwegian music is all about EDM and hip hop right now, so rock bands don’t stand a chance getting any real media attention or mainstream radio airplay. Norwegians also love melancholic music, so the only rock bands you hear are kind of depressing… and that makes me a bit sad. I like rock ’n roll to be fun, cool and uplifting, so I really don’t get it.
MM: I can’t thank you enough for chatting, Kjetil. The final Razorbats words on Mass Movement are all yours. Go!
Kjetil : Thanks! Well, if you have read this whole interview then I guess something resonated. If you like classic rock, power pop, melodic punk, bands like Hanoi Rocks, Cheap Trick, Kiss, Def Leppard or newer bands like The Struts, Biters, Wyldlife and Rival Sons, then you should absolutely check out our new album Razorbats II. And I hope to see you when we return to the UK sometime in the future!
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